Qian was so immersed in telling Qu-Kai about the events surrounding his father’s death that he hadn’t noticed that they had drifted back to the prison. Perhaps, Qu-Kai’s curiosity about the circumstances surrounding those events pulled them back there.
They were at the guard’s gate and for a second Qian panicked, fearing that the guard would refuse them entrance as they had no way to identify themselves. But he was soon calmed as they effortlessly floated past the guard through the safety glass partition undetected.
Noticing the visitor check-in log on the guard’s desk prompted Qu-Kai to query Qian about that night. “You said you had thought to check the log to see who the last person was that visited your father the night before he killed himself. Did you check it? What did you find?”
“You won’t believe what I found.”
Qu-Kai began to think that it must have been Ying-Quan, the colleague that framed him or Zhong-Ping the lawyer. But, Qian shook his head as if he sensed what he was thinking.
“It was my coward of a brother that deserted his family in their greatest moment of need. What could he have said to induce such a state of despair in father that he would commit suicide? I hate him so much for causing the destruction of our family with his thoughtless and irresponsible actions! You can’t imagine how much I hate him for that.”
Talking about his family made Qian extremely agitated. But, at the same time, Qu-Kai sensed an inner struggle in him. Qian suddenly grasped his head in his hands in deep anguish. “But mother told us not to hate him because he is family. He is my brother and I shouldn’t hate him.” His face was covered in tears and Qu-Kai, seeing how grieved he was couldn’t help but shed tears of sympathy for him.
But, experiencing the hatred for his brother gave him the courage and determination to go to the cell where his father had killed himself. They floated down a long dark corridor flanked on both sides by thick iron cell doors. The odor of rust was so strong in the air that it left an acrid taste in his mouth. But it was not strong enough to mask the unmistakable smell of dried urine and sweat.
They finally arrived at the locked cell 207 where his father had been incarcerated. The cell was empty and dusty; obviously unoccupied for many years. The three concrete walls and the iron door formed a small enclosure 3 meters square; barely enough room for a bed, toilet and sink but ample room for 2 ghosts. They floated inside for a closer look.
“You know, two people died in this cell. That’s why they locked it up permanently and no longer keep prisoners in it.”
“Who else besides your dad?”
“Ying-Quan. It’s seems that fate arranged for him to be arrested for the same charges, imprisoned in the same cell, and die there the same as my father. It’s as if my father somehow evoked a predestination for him to experience the same pain and suffering Ying-Quan’s betrayal had caused him.”
“Did he commit suicide then?”
“No, but he looked the same as my father except for the ligature marks on the neck. He obviously died a painful tormented death but no cause of death was ever officially declared. The medical examiners thought that it was incredible that the expressions on both faces were identical
When he was arrested, I came to see him here in this cell. I told him not to worry about being lonely because my father would come to visit him every night so they could talk to each other. I told him that every night between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. the window would open by itself and he would feel a rush of cold air. Soon after, he would hear someone crying and then shortly after that hear the bed shaking because that was the time that my father hanged himself. I said, ‘You may even have a chance to see him die and suffer shame knowing that your betrayal brought him to this end’.
Ying Quan was frightened by my prediction and asked to be moved to a new cell to avoid being haunted by my father’s ghost but, nobody paid attention to him because they thought he was making up a story caused by his superstition and didn’t want to be in a cell where someone had died; especially someone he had betrayed.
I don’t know if father’s ghost came to claim his life or if he just frightened himself to death. At any rate, when the news spread around the prison, the inmates became very uneasy so the prison warden decided to permanently seal the cell.”
Qian stood under the wooden beam for a long time looking at the spot where his father had hung from. He tried to imagine what mood he had been in and what his last thoughts were but couldn’t.
Suddenly the window opened and a rush of cold air filled the cell. Qian subliminally sensed that his father’s ghost had felt the presence of his strong emotions and had come to him.
He turned away from the window and returned his gaze to the beam. He was startled by the appearance of the white circular noose hanging from the beam, framing his father’s purple distorted visage whispering some unintelligible short words in a low soft voice. But the distended tongue hanging from the side of the mouth was muffling the sounds.
He moved closer to see if he could understand the words. “Coooommme, Coooommme, and Coooommme” the voice seemed to say. It felt like a mesmerizing invitation to join his father in death. Even the tongue curved upward in a hook shape, seemingly beckoning him. The air became frozen and time stood still. The concept of heaven and hell ceased to exist. All that remained was an endless eternity.
“Father?” Qian shouted, but the visage did not respond. Instead, the image changed to his own face superimposed over his father’s and the color turned the same pale shade of purple he had witnessed at his own funeral when he peered into the coffin.
Now his own voice was beckoning him as his father had. “Coooommme, Coooommme, Coooommme” He unconsciously started drifting toward a reunion with death until he merged with his father’s ghost. He suddenly began shaking uncontrollably in a death throe reliving his father’s death. All the emotions from his father’s last moments flooded his senses. He had never experienced such intense feelings of hatred, anguish and bitterness as he was feeling now and in an instant he was aware of the reason his father committed suicide. Mo-Xiu came to the prison and told him that his wife was exchanging her body for money to finance his defense.
Qu-Kai, of course, did not apprehend any of this. He only saw a cloud of swirling purple gas that engulfed Qian’s face and transformed into a ferocious death mask which made him shudder. Simultaneously, the stopper in the hulu gourd opened and the purple gas dissipated as it poured into it. Qu-Kai knew that Qian had recovered his hatred subordinate soul and that his animosity toward his brother had died with the surrogate death of his father.
Qu-Kai wasn’t really sure what Qian had just experienced but he guessed that it was not a topic open for discussion. Instead, he skillfully initiated a dialogue that he felt Qian would not object to. “What about the others?”
“You know, all the other people that were responsible for your father’s imprisonment. I thought you would hate them as much as you hated Ying-Quan.”
“I did hate them just as much.”
“Then why was Ying-Quan the only one to be made to suffer the way he did?”
“I didn’t have time to deal with them all immediately but retribution was never far from my thoughts. I had to first build my career and fortune to effectively expose them. I spent a lot of money investigating the entire company that was involved in bribing the customs bureau. I had a lot of contacts in the government so it wasn’t hard to collect hard copy evidence about their tax evasion violations. I sent all the evidence to the government prosecutor and when charges were brought against them, they couldn’t afford defense lawyers. Consequently there assets were seized and they were all sent to prison.”
“You mentioned that you had a lot of contacts in the government. Did you have to bribe them to get the information you needed?”
This brought to mind the overt attempt by Lin Yun-Sheng to blackmail him and he suddenly became very bitter. “All those damned bureaucrats should spend eternity in hell. Any punishment they get could never be enough!”
“That’s pretty harsh criticism considering that you most obviously had to bribe some of them to consummate your vendetta. How does that make you any different from them?”
“Well, I guess the difference is that I didn’t kill anyone or indirectly cause anybody to die. In the end I was the only one to die. Besides, what’s done is past. What’s the point of debating the morality of it?”
Qu-Kai sensed that Qian was getting annoyed so he changed the subject. “Well, what about the lawyer? Did he ever return the money that your mother gave him?”
Qian shook his head. “He said that once the court date was set he had dispersed all the money in advance and had no idea who had the funds. Then he had the balls to say, ‘Besides, it’s not my fault that the accused committed suicide before the trial.’ I had to restrain myself from choking him to death on the spot!”
Qu-Kai let out a deep sigh. “How can the people in the legal system be so corrupt?”
“Don’t worry, they all were exposed and got their just desserts. There was a large scale investigation into allegations of judges and prosecutors taking bribes. Initial findings resulted in an operation to thoroughly search Zhong-Ping’s office and home to examine his financial records and appointment books. He was tipped off by one of his cohorts in the justice department and fled to Laos before they could arrest him. He could never return to Taiwan and died there destitute and isolated. The lesson there is that friendship is a fragile thing. Once you are in trouble, you find out who your real friends are. And, apparently, he didn’t have any. You can’t escape paying the piper forever. Eventually, your bad deeds catch up to you.”
Qian was suddenly aroused by an emerging subliminal perception that someone had invaded his home. He hadn’t noticed until now that they were still in the prison and a vague compelling force was beckoning him to discover who was digging into a part of his past life that he had put out of is mind long ago.
“We have to leave here now!” he said, with an uneasy inexplicable urgency.